Apple Patent Case Against Google’s Motorola Revived

Apple Inc. won an appeals court ruling that lets it argue anew that Google Inc.’s Motorola Mobility infringed its patents for touchscreen technology.

The appeals court ordered the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington to consider whether Motorola Mobility infringed one patent, and to review whether an aspect of a second patent was valid. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which posted the opinion on its website today, upheld invalidity findings on other aspects of that patent.

The case focused on what an Apple lawyer told the court was a key invention that “drove the iPhone phenomenon.” The dispute is over transparent screens that can sense multiple touches in different locations, enabling users to operate a mobile phone by touching or swiping its screen.

Motorola Mobility persuaded the agency to rule that one of the patents was invalid and the other wasn’t infringed. The case targeted Motorola Mobility’s Droid, Droid 2, Droid X, Cliq, Backflip, Devour and Charm phones, as well as the Xoom tablet. Mountain View, California-based Google bought Motorola Mobility after the commission issued its decision.

“Today’s decision paves the way for the ITC to find that Apple’s remaining claims are invalid and that our products don’t infringe,” said William Moss, a spokesman for Motorola Mobility. “Meanwhile, we’ll stay focused on delivering great new phones that people love.”

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple, said the company had no comment.

Panel Split

On the patent that was originally found not infringed, Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore, writing for the majority, said the commission erred in its interpretation of a key phrase of the patent.

The three-judge panel split on the validity of the other patents. Moore said there was “substantial evidence” to support the commission’s finding that many aspects of the Apple multitouch patent were similar to an earlier patent issued in

2008. Not enough analysis was done to determine if a different element of the patent was an obvious variation of a Sony Corp. paper for a product called SmartSkin, she wrote.

The commission should have considered the fact that Apple was praised for its multitouch screen when the iPhone was introduced in 2007. The agency also failed to address Apple’s evidence of copying, Moore wrote.

Circuit Judge Jimmie Reyna said he would have upheld all of the multitouch patent, saying it “marks true innovation.”

“The asserted patent in this case is an invention that has propelled not just technology, but also dramatically altered how humans across the globe interact and communicate,” he wrote.

Motorola Mobility had a case against Cupertino, California-based Apple that it lost at the trade agency in April. That case is on appeal before the Federal Circuit.

The case is Apple Inc. v. ITC, 12-1338, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington). The ITC case is In the Matter of Mobile Devices and Related Software, 337-750, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.